Wednesday, 25 June 2014

National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces Establishes 'Heritage Task Force'

The 'Ministry of Culture and Family Affairs' of the Istanbul-based [but apparently US-backed] 'National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces' (optimistically calling themselves the 'interim government') recognizing the propaganda value of heritage protection, has established a 'Heritage Task Force' with Dr Amr Al Azm (associate professor of Middle East history and anthropology at Shawnee State University in Ohio) as Chairman (Syrian Coalition, 'Interim Government Establishes Heritage Task Force', June 24, 2014). The stated aim of the Heritage Task Force is to "help protect Syrian cultural heritage in the present crisis" and will coordinate the work of "internationally recognized Syrian technical experts" coordinating its efforts with UNESCO and other international heritage organizations, such as ICOMOS, ICCROM, and ICOM.
Damage to museums, archaeological sites, religious buildings, and historic structures is known to be widespread. Just in recent weeks, a new wave of organized archaeological looting began at Dura-Europos, the Ottoman period gate at Deir Ez-Zor was bombed, the desecration of a medieval Christian graveyard, and the destruction of the Jewish Synagogue in Jobar and the Omayyad mosque in Aleppo. The Heritage Task Force was established in order to address these and other heritage preservation concerns.
And looky-here, the US State Department obligingly pulls out (June 18th 2014) of the hundreds of thousands of surveillance photos they have on Syria (presumably showing dozens of heavily-looted sites) a spanking new series to show looting... precisely where? Dura Europos of course. Coincidence, surely. The Heritage Task Force will provide a structure for protecting heritage sites in the areas under the control of groups opposing the Assad regime.
The Heritage Task Force will [...] work with the community groups and non-governmental organizations that are working diligently to protect heritage inside Syria. [...] As a first practical step, an emergency training program for museum curators and other civil society representatives will be held in the coming month. This training will focus on safeguarding museum, library, and archaeological site collections that are at extreme risk. An emphasis will be placed upon how collections can be safely sheltered in place. [...] The Heritage Task Force will support efforts to document the current conditions and future preservation needs. [...] In the coming months, it will work in conjunction with a new project to be undertaken by the University of Pennsylvania Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that will track intentional damage and destruction to cultural heritage sites in Syria.
The Task Force will draw mainly on US expertise to achieve its aims, the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Pennsylvania Museum’s Penn Cultural Heritage Centre, the U.S. Institute of Peace (Washington, DC, USA) and The Day After Association (Brussels, Belgium). The training has been financially supported, in part, by the J. M. Kaplan Fund (New York, USA). Good luck to them.

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